Top things to do while visiting Balboa Park

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Check out our local’s guide on the top things to do at Balboa Park!

From history museums to simply hanging out in the sun, there’s something for everyone at Balboa Park.

History of the park

One of the oldest parks in the country, Balboa Park was founded in 1868. The name comes from Spanish explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa, who is known as the first explorer to see the Pacific Ocean, so it is not surprising why much of the architecture in the park is Spanish influenced.

Activities and sights to see

On your way into Balboa Park, walk across Cabrillo Bridge, which sits at more than 125 feet high, and stretches more than 1,500 feet long. Once inside the park, there are open spaces to spread out with a blanket and read a book, but it is also filled with museums, restaurants and coffee shops, hiking trails, and large pavilions.

Some of our favorite museums include the Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego Museum of Art, Timken Museum of Art, the Natural History Museum, Model Railroad Museum, and the Museum of Us. The latter is considered to be one of the most unique museums in the city. (Note: check the hours of operation for these museums, as some of them are closed on Mondays).

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If you came to Balboa Park simply to relax, considering bringing your own lunch and eat in one of the outdoor courtyards while you unwind and catch some sun. For dining in the park, we also suggest Panama 66 and The Prado.

After having lunch, take a walk through the Casa Del Rey Moro Garden or the Alcazar Garden. We also recommend the rose garden. You can also pay to enter the Japanese Friendship Garden, which also features the Tea Pavilion, where you can purchase and sip different styles of tea. 

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Picturesque spots in the park

For great places to stop off and take a picture, check out the House of Hospitality, and also the Casa De Balboa. A real gem to the park is the Casa Del Prado, a building that dates back to 1915, which was built for the Panama California Exposition. Today, the building hosts a variety of activities, and can be rented out for private events, such as weddings or parties. Casa Del Prado also has a theatre, which features an array of shows throughout the year. The greenhouse is also worth checking out, as it features more than 2,000 different tropical plants, as well as many orchids and ferns.

For a full-on look at all that Balboa Park has to offer, take a look at this video covering some of the top sights and attractions in the park!


Pick a sunny weekend and you’re sure to see some sort of entertainment, from live-performance magic shows to pop-up music sets. With a great location in central San Diego, Balboa Park is perfect place to spend the day with the family, or come alone and enjoy all the tranquility and peacefulness that it has to offer!

After a day at the park, head to our nearby Adventure Hostel in the LITTLE ITALY neighborhood and spend the night!

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